Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Roy Clements, Persevering and Psalm 51

The May Day weekend was overcommitted and variously double-booked. Had to forcibly carve out some time out to prep Psalm 51 for this week's study. (Then, I lost track of the hours in the quietness of Tea Chapter and almost missed a family dinner, to the ire of those members who'd been reminding me, for several days prior to the event, NotToBeLate.)
Tea and Psalm 51
One of the commentaries on Psalm 51 handed out during CLOBS showed a certain astuteness and insightfulness into the workings of the sinful human psyche. It was a great shock to discover that the author was none other than Roy Clements. And someone actually cried.

Prior to 1999, Roy Clements was a wonderfully influential preacher and teacher of the Bible. His ministry was international. He was a popular apologist and brought many people to saving faith in Christ. Thousands who'd never heard him speak were encouraged by the books he wrote. In 1999, he resigned from Eden Baptist Church, Cambridge. He told his wife that he had been in a relationship with a younger man, his research assistant, for several years. Then he left her and their children and went to live with his partner.

Recalls Gary Benfold:
I sat enraptured as the preacher completed his series on 2 Timothy. "Guard the gospel" he'd called the series, and it was the first expository preaching I had ever heard. I was so thrilled at the power of the Word that I began to hope that, one day, I too might be able to give my life to preaching. I remember so well as the preacher reached 4.7 ("I have fought a good fight; I have finished my course; I have kept the faith" - we all used the AV in those days), he stepped back from the makeshift pulpit, looked around the room and said:"When you're old, infirm and living in a rest-home and the students from the local Christian Union come to visit you, make sure you will be able to take their firm young hand in your frail old hand and fix their bright young eyes with your rheumy old eyes and say: "I have fought the fight; I have finished the race; there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness"."

There were times - many times - in those early days of my Christian pilgrimage when those words held me and brought me back to the road. I owe so much to that weekend's preaching; even now I'm profoundly moved as I recall it. It was more than 25 years ago; the preacher was Roy Clements, and it recently became public knowledge that he has left his wife for another man.
Even before I was Christian, I noticed that it was not the norm for professed Christians to stay in a right relationship with God. The years saw fervent ex-classmates who used to speak of nothing but God and salvation exchanging their beliefs for intimate relationships with non-Christian partners (of the same and opposite sexes) or the bitterness of being childless or the numbing comfort of a stable career, family and leadership positions in their local churches befitting their seniority.

In their time, some had been fearless and bold evangelists, clear about sin and salvation. Others had been amazing prayer warriors of unwavering faith, unafraid to depend on God for everything. The sort who were committed to finishing what they'd begun, who'd do their own homework and hand it in on time too. I the easily-bored introvert with the short-attention span specialising in copying homework, disrupting classes, and later, mumbly, somewhat inarticulate public prayers wondered how I could possibly make it through to my 77th birthday (assuming the statistical life expectancy for Singapore) if they didn't even manage to last the better part of a decade.

Well, Psalm 51 tells us we ain't gonna make it happen. For it's not just that all humans commit little sins, cheeky acts of rebellion against God, but that we are inherently sickeningly sinful, rotting and corrupted to the core of our very being, so that even when we were nothing but a bunch of cells clinging to our mothers' wombs we were already at war with God (Psalm 51:5). If we looked honestly at ourselves, past the strawmen-excuses of lousy genetics, stress and lack of proper upbringing, we come face-to-face with the terribly ugly person we would be ashamed to acknowledge as a distant uncle thrice removed, not to say our actual selves.

If we looked clearly at our own corrupt selves and then at God's face, holy, pure and true, we know that he will be absolutely right to condemn us to hell.

The shadows of this terrible condition beset us even after we come into a right relationship with God. Because we remain in this flesh. O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? moaned Paul the apostle (Romans 7:24). Thanks be to God that it is the initiative of God himself who in his infinite compassion and undeserved mercy called us to be his children and also gave us his Holy Spirit to indwell in us so creating in us a new heart, a new being that was not in existence before, a being that is actually capable of doing the will of the Father, who will also preserve us.

When I think about the groups of Christians I hang with: the leaders at CLOBS, the little prayer couples and triplets, the DGs, the one-on-one studies, the evangelistic-events, sports, games or food fellowships...I wonder how many of us current enthusiasts for the gospel will still stand in God in 10, 20, 50 years' time. 50 years is a long time, longer than we've been on this earth. How will we persevere?

Fortunately, it will be the same way we started, not (ultimately) by our own effort or our own work but depending the lovingkindness, the steadfast love, the covenantal faithfulness of the God who first called us, who accepts our useless broken and contrite hearts, trusting that he who knew us before we knew him will finish the good work he first began in us.

So John Chapman is fond of saying that the first 50 (the number keeps increasing) years are the hardest. So someone quoted David Jackman as saying that we must keep the communication channels open with those who seem to have fallen away because he has seen God turn the hearts of some back to him after 40 years.

And what can I do, O God of my salvation? My tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness (Psalm 51:14). O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise (Psalm 51:15). And with Jeremy Camp I sing: Wonderful, so wonderful is your unfailing love. No heart in this world will fully know how glorious, how beautiful you are. Beautiful one, my soul must sing (mp3). And it is impossible to keep this good news to myself, so I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you (Psalm 51:13).

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At May 28, 2006 2:19 am , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting that David at Ps 51:5 recognises his sinfulness at birth, while in Ps 22:9 said that God made him trust Him at his mother's breast.


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